Tyron Woodley gets deep on his search for the ‘perfect fight’ and why he continues to compete despite slump

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Tyron Woodley knows his best days in MMA are probably behind him.

At age 40, the former UFC welterweight champion has stayed active in combat sports since his title reign ended in 2019, but his results have been rocky, to say the least. Between MMA and professional boxing, Woodley is a combined 0-6 since dropping the UFC title, with a pair of boxing losses to Jake Paul representing his most recent in-ring appearances.

So why is he still continuing to fight? In a recent appearance on The MMA Hour, Woodley admitted it’s a question he’s reflected on since his second loss to Paul.

“I feel like I asked God, I said, ‘Show me this perfect fight.’ And he showed me this perfect fight and me walking away from the sport, and he showed me walking away on top, he show me walking away literally a bulletproof, perfect, no-mistake performance — and that’s the way I envisioned it,” Woodley said on The MMA Hour. “So no matter how many lessons I took along the road, or how many bumps, I know I didn’t feel that fight, so therefore I know it’s not time for me to hang it up, right?

“Then I was talking to my kids last week, and then something just came over me and it was like — you know when you’ve just got something that you feel, like was whispering to you? That fight was Darren Till. I had that fight. It was a perfect fight. The kid that was more motivated than me, he was stronger than me, he was bigger than me. He sold out the O2 Arena. Conor McGregor, he was going to be the successor of him. All the [conversation] that I was thinking too much about entertainment, I was too Hollywood, I was stretched too thin. And I had three weeks to get ready to take on this kid.”

Woodley’s win over Till ultimately served as the pinnacle of his UFC career. Despite his ranking as one of the best fighters in the world in 2018, the former champ strode into his fourth consecutive title defense against the popular Liverpudlian as a sizable betting underdog. Till was young, hungry, and undefeated, and much of the conversation around UFC 228 framed Till’s time at the top of the welterweight division as a near inevitability.

That talk fueled Woodley — and ultimately led to one of the most impressive nights of his UFC career. Woodley submitted Till with a second-round D’Arce choke to cap off a flawless performance and silence any lingering doubt about his position at the top of the sport.

“I was looking at some video, Din Thomas put it up [on social media] of me training in the back [during a UFC event], but he never said who the opponent was,” Woodley said. “They sat me next to [Kamaru] Usman, they sat me next to Colby [Covington], they sat me next to [Jorge] Masvidal, they sat me to Till. And it was Demetrius Johnson fighting against Henry Cejudo for the second time [at UFC 227], and I call [former UFC employee] Chris Provino and I said, ‘Come get me. I want to get the f*** out of here. I don’t want to be in here. This ain’t cute to me. Like, I will really f*** somebody up right now. I don’t like that.’

“They thought it was really cute to put everybody around me so maybe some organic drama would pop off, but some people are really built like that. So I went into the back, I go to Reebok, I said, ‘Give me a f****** fight kit right now.’ They didn’t ask me no questions, they gave me and my coach a fight kit. Now we were at the fight watching, right?

“So we [went to the] back [to start] training,” Woodley continued. “And we’re training, we’re watching the video of Henry fighting. Now back then I told coach, I said, ‘Darren Till can beat me. He can. And he believes he can beat me. That’s dangerous. And if I don’t train hard, he will beat me. It’s not just my belt — it’s our belt. He’s going to take our belt from us.’ So I said, ‘Don’t ease up on me. Don’t f****** take it easy on me.’ I said, ‘I want you to push me, push me, push me.’ And I said that in the press conference. So I look on the screen and Demetrius Johnson loses to Henry Cejudo, and I said, ‘If this motherf***** can lose, the best well-rounded fighter we’ve ever seen, anybody can lose.’ And I said, ‘I’m going apes***.’

“I trained 24 days straight, no breaks, twice a day. I just went nuts. And then I cut weight for the fight. And I felt like that was the fight that I envisioned. But when you are fighting out of pride and fighting out of ego, when you’re fighting to prove everybody wrong, and then I had a period of my life were, s***, I was taking out maximum from every ATM every single day, I was spending money, I was buying cars, I was on other stuff. So it was a period of time in my life when I first started touching bread for the first time, I wasn’t as responsible as I am now, right? So now I put me in a position where, either it’s because of ego or the way I set myself up, that I had to take a couple more fights. I wasn’t really there.”

Today, the Till performance remains Woodley’s last win of his combat sports career. He ended his UFC career with four straight losses then shifted his attention to his two-fight series with Paul, the second of which ended in a brutal sixth-round knockout loss.

Woodley isn’t done, though. He plans to compete in at least three different combat sports in 2023, he said, and still hopes to find the perfect ending that has eluded him thus far.

“Now it’s like, the fights got to mean something to me,” Woodley said. “It can’t be money, it can’t be because everybody thinks I can’t beat him. It’s got to be exciting.

“So what I’m going do, I’m going to do a boxing fight, and then I think I’m going to fight in a kickboxing fight. Every time I kick somebody, they hit the ground. Why don’t I kick people more? … I think that’s going to gradually build me back up. So I’m going to do a boxing fight, get in great shape, continue to add kicks in — and I’ve already been doing kickboxing and Muay Thai, so I’m already kind of like back kicking again. And as I prepare for the Muay Thai fight, I’m going to incorporate the rest of the grappling back in.

“Then I want to wrap up the year with MMA. I really want to fight in St. Louis. I haven’t fought in St. Louis since my first Strikeforce. I started my first Strikeforce fight in 2009 in St. Louis, Missouri, and then I’m thinking I want to [return] there at the end of the year.”

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